It is estimated that more than half the global population now resides in cities. The United Nations
projects this number to touch 68% by 2050. This continuing trend puts pressure on an infrastructure
that is already ageing. Basic human needs such as electricity, water, transport, sanitation,
healthcare, lighting, security, education, internet connectivity – there is a long list of daily
needs that need to be scaled up to match the demands of urban population.
Countries around the world have pinned their hopes on Smart City initiatives – investing billions of
dollars to make their cities efficient and sustainable. The goal of smart cities is to provide a
better quality of life by adopting modern management practices and efficient resource management.
International Data Corporation (IDC) expects nearly 20% increase in smart city initiatives in 2020,
taking the total to $124 billion. The curve is expected to follow an upward trajectory for the
In this article, we take a deeper look at what a Smart City is all about, various layers of its
implementation, common use cases, and benefits they offer that have convinced governments around the
globe to spend billions of dollars on it every year.
For any smart city initiative to be successful, all citizen centric services must be modernized. The
leadership should take a long-term view and be ready to start (and probably fail) early. Here are
the eight generally recognized public facing areas for a successful smart city project:
- Engagement and Community
- Economic Development and Housing
- Sanitation and Waste Management
What Makes a city smart?
Intelligent technology solutions form the core of any smart city project. A city needs modern,
tech-enabled infrastructure to engage with its citizens, make systems efficient, and manage services
better. In the last decade, the following technologies have evolved from the periphery to become
- Artificial Intelligence
- Machine Learning
- Big Data
- Cloud Computing
- Virtualization and Digitization
- Broadband penetration
- Advanced Analytics Tools
A smart city need infrastructure enabled with sensors and communication networks that can facilitate
data exchange seamlessly. Internet of Things (IoT) plays a crucial role here, already powering
consumer devices around the world.
Pollution levels, traffic congestion, energy demand and supply, etc. can be analyzed in real time
and predictive analytics tools can be deployed to forecast patterns. This data, when made available
to the general public, transport operators, and businesses would optimize service delivery.
Requirements of a Smart City
Governments, administrators and vendors around the world are finally realizing that a smart city
project goes way beyond fitting sensors to existing infrastructure, fitting digital interfaces and
optimizing operations of a city. It is the adoption of technology to analyze data purposefully and
make decisions that improve the overall quality of life of all stakeholders.
Smart cities are huge projects and the payback period can easily run into decades. It is a
constantly evolving journey that needs cohesive integration across these three layers:
- A solid technology infrastructure enabled with high-speed communication. It has modern
equipment fitted with sensors that can interact with smartphones and other receiving devices
throughout its limits.
- Dedicated applications that can consume data from sensors in real time and turn it into
actionable insights. This is where app developers and IoT manufacturers come in.
- Adoption by governments, corporates and public. This step is dependent on having a critical
mass of technology savvy administrators and users with a vision for the future.
This is one common problem choking cities around the globe. Roads, underground tunnels, fly-overs,
metro trains, train networks are already in place. Though they have done a good job in keeping up
with the expanding urban demand, they have their limit. Utilizing existing infrastructure to the
maximum is the challenge that holds the key in tackling the growing transportation problem. Though
ride-sharing apps and navigational software have done their bit, there is a school of thought
indicating shared mobility has added to the chaos on the roads rather than helped solve it.
Smart city implementation will help citizens track the exact location of public transport, its
estimated ride time depending upon traffic conditions, availability of last-mile connectivity, etc.
For private vehicle owners, it can feed information related to traffic congestion, parking
availability, incentivize travel during non-peak hours, and much more.
Smart city investments on traffic management are expected to rise by 25% by 2025.
Smart city pilot projects are already showing promising results in making communities safe.
Automated CCTV monitoring and advanced technologies such as real-time face recognition has made it
possible for law enforcement agencies to track down offenders proactively. Digital footprints are
playing a major role in generating evidence and courts around the world are warming up to digital
The city of Detroit has teamed up with local business owners, who have agreed to share their
security camera footage with law enforcement agencies. Crime rate has already dropped by nearly 50%
in such localities.
Enhanced government-citizen engagement
Government bodies are entrusted with delivering a host of services to the public. Though the
efficiency has improved after adoption of IT solutions, the systems are fragmented and there a lot
of friction in flow of data from one department to another, causing significant delays.
Smart city initiatives are opening up self-service channels for citizens. Services are being
delivered digitally, accurately and in a user-friendly manner. This promotes citizen engagement and
improves transparency. Government data can be shared through interactive maps and dashboards. Key
information related to budgeting, and other essential services can be delivered through live streams
and other broadcast channels. This improves quality of life and makes communities attractive to
Environment and Sustainability
Cities are witnessing pollution levels like never before. Greenhouse emissions from buildings,
vehicles and factories are causing irreparable damage to the environment. Waste management is
another major challenge our cities are grappling with.
Air quality sensors can track pollution levels in real time from across the city and help policy
makers draft an action plan, in addition to identifying violators. Healthcare issues related to air
pollution claim millions of lives annually and this is a solid foundation to identify major
contributors and peak hours. This data can be analyzed to come up with measures that would flatten
out the peak demand hours. For example, incentivizing citizens to purchase electric vehicles,
capping new cars sold, increasing toll payments during peak traffic hours, etc.
We have limited natural resources, which are being harnessed at a breakneck pace. Utilities are now
looking at becoming more efficient rather than using up more and more resources to cater to our
energy, water, gas, and petroleum demands.
Smart sensors have the ability to point out malfunctioning units of huge transmission and
distribution energy networks, which would otherwise take days to detect. Leaking water supply pipes
can be identified and repaired in a short time frame, minimizing wastage. At the consumer end, smart
metering can track a household’s usage on a daily basis and alert them. This has been taken up as a
pilot in Cape Town, South Africa and the results have been promising. Customers have seen their
water consumption drop by 40 to 60 percent after they started receiving daily consumption data.
Municipalities deploy huge workforce to clean up cities, collect garbage and dispose them regularly.
A large part of it is manual, as they do not have processed data about the critical zones. When
fitted to community garbage collectors, smart sensors can let the supervisors know when the bin is
full and it can be attended immediately. GPS data can be fed into mobile apps so that consumers know
the exact position of garbage trucks and sanitation workers.
It will lead to an overall improvement in customer experience, as complaints and feedback can be
given through mobile apps and acted upon quickly.
Building roads, bridges and buildings require huge capital. These are the life-lines of a city and
repair works consume time and resources. It is not possible to monitor entire infrastructure on a
regular basis manually. This is where sensors come handy. They can identify cracks and gaps in
structure really early and trigger of an alert. Authorities can follow it up with inspection and
undertake repair works immediately, before the damage aggravates. Early repair takes less time and
money, making the entire system more efficient.